Invest – A Quality Umbrella

Umbrellas often go overlooked in menswear and are usually given little consideration as something worth investing in. Given their largely utilitarian purpose, they’re seen as essential to have, but as long as they stop the rain from reaching us then nothing more is required. This is true, however that logic can be applied to almost anything, from shoes to jackets to the vast array of things we use regularly. It’s only with the investment of passion from craftsmen that the ordinary can become something more. Not from necessity, but because beauty can be created and found anywhere that another human being chooses to commit themselves to something they care about.

The end goal, then, remains the same and a beautiful handmade umbrella still stops the rain from soaking us, but when you’re stuck outside on a rainy day, it’s nicer to be hidden under a hand-stretched canopy attached to a single piece of oak, carved, turned, sanded and sealed by someone who cared about what they were doing.

James Smith Exterior

I bought my first proper umbrella from Albert, at James Smith and Sons in New Oxford Street in London, which, to this day remains a family owned business 185 years after it first started trading. The store itself is truly unique and somewhat of a time warp, with most of its original fittings still in place, hidden behind hundreds of handmade umbrellas and canes. Finding the right umbrella really just came down to first choosing which colour canopy I liked (navy, for its versatility, though green is also versatile and certainly more British) and then finding the right handle and shaft to go with it (a single piece of maple, in this instance). Albert measured the umbrella against the height of my hand, hanging at my side, before sawing off part of the tip and securing it with a metal cap, so it would remain at a comfortable height to walk with, while the cap protects the maple from the pavement.

James Smith and Sons interior

James Smith and Sons interior

Ever since then, whenever a rainy day shows up, I’m a little less disappointed at the lack of sun that I otherwise would be, knowing I’ll have a chance to get out my umbrella. Aside from its physical appeal, the most notable and unexpected surprise is that rain sounds so different on it. As its been made by hand (by Francesco Maglia, as I later found out when I showed it to him), the canopy is able to be stretched more tightly, better resembling a drum than a loose golf umbrella, meaning that each rain drop produces a satisfying thud when it lands.

My umbrella. Navy canopy with 1 piece maple shaft

My umbrella. Navy canopy with 1 piece maple shaft

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The tip is cut to size and sealed with a metal cap

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A single piece of maple is used, with the handle being steamed and bent to form the curve of the handle

A single piece of maple is used, with the handle being steamed and bent to form the curve of the handle

Other makers who are worthy of a great deal of admiration (and who I still plan to visit in person and write about) are Mario Talarico of Naples, who still hand makes umbrellas in the same way his family has since 1860, based out of his small atelier on Vico Due Porte a Toledo.

Mario Talerico

Mario Talerico

The other most notable Italian maker is Franceschino Maglia (as mentioned above) based in Milan and the larger of the two makers (by a significant margin). Francesco makes for a number of third parties and if I had to guess, I’d say it was Maglia who made my umbrella from James Smith and Sons (edit: it was).

A resplendant Franceschino Maglia

A resplendent Francesco Maglia

In addition to the Italian makers, Fox Umbrellas are probably the best chance for anyone who isn’t in or travelling to London, Milan or Naples, to actually see first hand and choose a well made umbrella, due to a strong retail presence globally, matched with an extensive product range. It’s usually not too hard to find a stockist in any developed country.

Over time, an umbrella from any of these makers or others with an equal commitment to quality and authentic craftsmanship will become like an old friend, always there when the weather makes a turn for the worse and you’ll find yourself looking forward to taking it out of the car or hall cupboardwhen heading outside.

The only downside to a good umbrella is to expect to be confronted by a personal dilemma whenever you’re faced with needing to leave it in the communal bucket at the entrance of a building.

 

Andrew is an Australian born writer, covering the world's leading bespoke tailors and craftspeople in menswear, with a focus on authentic quality, over branding. He spends most of his days running his successful (god knows how) consulting company and travels frequently to Europe for work and writing. He's a passionate cyclist, former trainee professional golfer and lover of all things Cocker Spaniel. He's married to his best friend and significantly better half, Mehri.

2 Comments

  • Reply December 17, 2015

    Peter

    Thanks for the review Andrew. I’m fractionally disappointed that your umbrella is made in Italy, not because I believe that it is any way inferior, but because I would have hoped for an English made one at Smith.

    I’ve always thought of getting a navy canopy, despite the fact that I wear a lot of brown and navy. Lately, I’m starting to thinking of a canopy a bit like a panama hat ribbon, that is, it should always be black and mismatching colours don’t offend in these items. What are your thoughts on this?

    • Reply December 30, 2015

      Andrew Doyle

      Hi Peter. I was a bit disappointed too. Particularly having not found that out until after the purchase. That said, the quality is excellent, so I’m not that bothered. More of a communication issue, rather than a product issue.
      I feel differently on the panama hat issue and I’m not against a brown or navy ribbon, or anything else which works with the colours you’re going to wear with it. For example, I almost never wear black (personal preference, nothing wrong with black) so I’d never have a black ribbon.
      In regards to an umbrella canopy, for future umbrellas, I’d be more likely to buy a dark green or charcoal canopy before I’d buy a black one.
      It all comes down to personal preference, though. Pick what you like the look of and whichever option feels more “you”. You’ll always be glad of the decision.

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